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Medical marijuana sales likely months away

Image courtesy Releaf Medical Cannabis Company https: within
Releaf Medical Cannabis
Image courtesy Releaf Medical Cannabis Company

(Photo courtesy Releaf Medical Cannabis Company)

One of the South Dakotans waiting for the state Department of Health to approve a medical marijuana card is Boots Among Trees. The Sioux Falls resident is one of 18 patient applications the state Health Department has received since the system went live in mid-November.

So far, nine patients have a card approved.

Among Trees has a condition called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which affects the digestive system, muscular tissue, and breathing. It also results in hearing loss and reduced bone stability

“There’s a lot of detriment and inflammation and pain to the body with this genetic disorder,” Among Trees says.

Pain pills can help reduce inflammation. However, the side effects can be exhaustion and mental fatigue.

“I find it impossible to be a parent on pain pills,” Among Trees says. “I need to be present and active in my son’s life—and also present and active in my own life for my own health care. One of the only ways to combat my condition is continued physical therapy, and mild exercise and dietary intake to manage symptoms.”

Among Trees says THC-infused topical products like gel and lotion will help reduce the need for pain medication.

A medical marijuana card would let Among Trees purchase cannabis products in Flandreau, at a tribal-run dispensary within the state’s borders.

But they’re not interested in smoking marijuana or taking edibles.

"I would like access to pain patches, transdermal gels and lotions. As of right now those are just not available in the state of South Dakota."
Boots Among Trees, South Dakota medical cannabis cardholder

“I’m asthmatic and I have issues enough breathing. I have no interest in vaping. I don’t really have interest in eating it that much either. I have dietary and digestive issues that that’s just one more complication I don’t need," Among Trees says. "I would like access to pain patches, transdermal gels and lotions. As of right now those are just not available in the state of South Dakota.”

No cultivation facilities yet

If Among Trees gets a card from the state it could take months before medical marijuana products are available.

That’s because dispensaries must sell marijuana grown in the state, and importing cannabis products across state lines remains a federal offense. There are currently no cultivation facilities licensed in the state, which means dispensaries have nothing to sell.

Despite the low number of medical marijuana patients so far, municipalities across the state are receiving applications and getting permits in place for dispensaries to start selling.

Lisa Yardley is Yankton’s deputy finance officer. The city will approve two medical cannabis dispensaries.

“Once those two applicants get state approval, they still have to do a certificate of occupancy with the city,” Yardley says. “They still have to do a site permit. They still have to do any building permits, building inspection. They are not operational until they meet those standards.”

Yankton will not allow any marijuana cultivation or processing operations.

Cities take different approaches

Across the state, Rapid City is allowing 15 dispensaries within city limits. That’s three times as many as the city of Sioux Falls, the state’s largest city.

Kelly Brennan is a long-range planner with Rapid City.

She says the city council approved the number of dispensary licenses based on the city’s population.

“So, similar to how we handle video lottery. What they came across was one license per 5,000 residents," Brennan says. "As our community grows that gives them the opportunity to issue more licenses.”

Brennan says the ordinance allows the city to issue more licenses in the future.

Several dispensary applications approved by the city are now pending with the state. The state will accept license applications until Dec. 31 and will then select 15 to start operations.

“The state has not stated when they are actually going to hold that tiebreaking, or lottery, we guess it’ll be more like February, but we don’t know that," Brennan says. "They have not actually issued a specific date.”

The state Department of Health says it’s received 11 cultivation applications. Commercial grow facilities are now going through the state and local application process. It could take months for them to begin selling cannabis, because they're not allowed to start growing it until they're licensed. In the meantime, medical cardholders can grow up to three marijuana plants for personal use if they choose to.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.